continues its determined, step-by-step effort
to develop a "fully and rapidly"
reusable launch system. To lower launch
costs significantly, there must be little
or no hardware thrown away during a flight,
the vehicle stages must return directly
to the launch site, and the system must
be reassembled and re-flown quickly, eventually
within a day, with minimal maintenance.
That is, a true space transport system must
have airliner type operations. Since the
cost of propellants is only 0.3% of the
total cost of a $60M dollar expendable launch,
a cost reduction of as much as a factor
of 100 is possible with a high launch rate.
Here is a video of a new reusable first
stage booster prototype for the SpaceX Falcon
9. The F9R Dev.1 vehicle flew to 1000 meters
on its second flight at their test facility
in Texas. The altitude limitation there
is 3000 meters so a Dev. 2 vehicle will
start flying in a few months at Spaceport
America in New Mexico. It will fly up
to very high altitudes where it can test
powered return technques.
On the Falcon 9 launch of a Dragon cargo
vessel to the ISS on April 18th, the first
stage did a controlled retrofire and descent
that brought it down for a soft landing
upon the water. After several more such
experiments, a first stage will boost back
to the Cape later this year for a landing
on a dry surface. Next year SpaceX plans
to then re-fly a previously flown first
stage on a Falcon 9 launch.
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